The first Saab to come to America, at least officially, was the Saab 93. It was an unusual addition to the automotive landscape. To a continent rife with aircraft-inspired styling came a truly aerodynamic automobile, and one made by an aircraft manufacturer, no less. Yet most Americans thought it was the Saab that looked peculiar, not th4e tail-finned behemoths of the American road.
Nevertheless, the Swedish teardrop found an appreciative audience in the U.S. Pilots appreciated the Saab 93, and it appealed to engineers, though doctors were the largest single group of buyers by occupation. An autumn 1958 survey by the University of Connecticut also found Saab owners to be the most politically liberal, second only to those who listed “walking” as their primary mode of transportation.
Cynics might add that non-mechanically inclined owners tended to become walkers. The survey, though, also found 94 percent of Saab owners said they were “satisfied” and only one percent “dissatisfied.”
The Saab 93 was a big improvement over the Saab 92, however. The 92, with a two-cylinder two-stroke was, for all its sophisticated styling, marginal transportation. Profoundly underpowered, it had a top speed—flat out—of about 60 mph. Add hills, passengers or a headwind or, egad, a combination thereof, and the speed dropped dramatically.
The Saab 92 was adequate for Europe, where most people had never been able to afford a car at all. Its competition was the bicycle, the motorcycle and the hordes of bubble-shaped microcars that briefly flourished on the Continent. But in the United States it would have been a commercial disaster. Most Saab 92s stayed in Sweden.
The Saab 93 was something else. Like the 92, its name was simply a sequential model number with no particular significance. But under its restyled hood was a three-cylinder engine. The displacement wasn’t increased—the 92’s twin displaced 764cc, the 93’s triple 748cc. But the last of the 92s made 28 hp, the new Saab 93 rated at five horses more, an 18 percent increase, and it was also much smoother.
It also fit neatly inside the 750cc class for competition. The Saab 92 had to compete in the 1100cc class, where stiff competition came from the smaller Porsches. The Saab 93 would race mostly against small-engined cars from France and Italy.
The Saab 93’s three-cylinder engine was mounted longitudinally instead of transversely, the 92’s crosswise twin an inheritance from DKW, whose pre-war powertrain Saab engineers had studied in devising the 92.
The longitudinal mounting of the engine, however, required a completely new and very compact transmission. It was still a three-speed and column-shifted, but the freewheeling was retained, although it could be disengaged from the driver’s seat. Freewheeling was a two-stroke necessity, keeping the engine from starving for oil when the carburetor was closed and the engine turning at speed, as when coasting downhill.
The radiator of the Saab 93 was actually above and behind the engine (as on the 92), cooled by a fan mounted on a shaft atop the engine that was turned by a pulley and vee-belt off the crankshaft pulley. A radiator blind was installed behind the grille.